MADELEINE BRAND, host:
The stars have realigned in the galaxy. We're talking soccer here, not astronomy. David Beckham has returned to the L.A. Galaxy pro soccer team, after a stint with top Italian team AC Milan.
Beckham is one of soccer's better players and its biggest star. But his past couple years with the Galaxy have produced losing seasons, hurt feelings, and now a tell-all book. It describes Beckham as a poor captain.
NPR's Mike Pesca watched the Galaxy defeat the New York Red Bulls last night in New Jersey, and he sent this report.
MIKE PESCA: Being a fan of David Beckham seems easy enough. He's a good-to-great player, a household name, self-effacing, a hard worker and a winner. Perhaps the only hidden cost is the amount of closet space you have to devote to his many jerseys: There's Manchester United, Team England, Real Madrid and AC Milan.
(Soundbite of booing and cheering)
PESCA: Last night, he re-donned the L.A. Galaxy jersey in front of a sparsely populated Giants Stadium crowd. Each year, the Galaxy comes east to face the Red Bulls, and Vito Petrezelli has been in the stands for each of Beckham's appearances.
Mr. VITO PETREZELLI: Three years ago, we had the entire stadium, every seat filled. Two years ago, a very nice crowd: the first two levels, a sprinkling up top. This year, we'd be pretty lucky to say that the entire first level is filled.
PESCA: Part of the explanation for the diminished excitement is that the home team is dreadful, as proved by last night's three to nothing halftime deficit, which Beckham had little to do with. But part of the explanation for the poor attendance is that the Beckham experiment hasn't gone so luminously for the Galaxy, or arguably for the league.
"The Beckham Experiment" is the title of a new book by Grant Wahl, in which he documents what happens when a star who earns $50 million a year, including endorsements, mixes with teammates who eagerly await double coupon days at the Stop and Shop.
Mr. GRANT WAHL (Author, "The Beckham Experiment"): You have this Armani world of Beckham coming together with this Wal-Mart world of MLS. And Beckham's temperament over the years suggested that he would be a good teammate, that he would find a way to connect with these guys even though their skills might not have been that great and their fame was nonexistent compared to his.
PESCA: While his teammates were happy to have their road accommodations upgraded from the Secaucus Sheraton to the Waldorf Astoria, the higher thread count did not translate to more wins. The Galaxy went three months without a victory. The failure seemed especially hard on Landon Donovan. Before David Beckham's arrival, Donovan was the Galaxy's captain, biggest star and best player. After Beckham, only the last of those superlatives held true, says Grant Wahl.
Mr. WAHL: I think he became very frustrated in the second half of 2008 that Beckham's effort, surprisingly, lagged on the field, and that Beckham, he thought, checked out on the team and wasn't committed to the team during that time.
PESCA: Donovan let his feelings be known through Wahl's book. Beckham criticized Donovan's openness as unprofessional. Before last night's game they swore they had patched things up.
(Soundbite of chanting)
PESCA: One game is not a referendum. One game against the Red Bulls even less so. But last night, Beckham played well enough and Donovan scored a goal and assisted on another. In the post-game press conference, Beckham embraced Donovan with words, just as he had embraced him on the field after his goal.
Mr. DAVID BECKHAM (Captain, Los Angeles Galaxy): When Landon's in the form that he has been, you know, you just give players like that the ball. And when you give them the ball, you know, they do what they can do and show how good they are. And, you know, Landon did that tonight.
PESCA: Beckham, having delivered a beautiful crossing pass, was rewarded as Donovan rocketed the compliment home.
Mr. LANDON DONOVAN (Player, Los Angeles Galaxy): He understands how to play the game. He knows how I play, and he can make all the plays that I need to get the ball in a good spot. So, it's easy.
PESCA: Easy hasn't been an apt word to describe the Beckham experiment thus far, but with the Galaxy sitting in third place, a new chapter just might be in the offing.
Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.